Andy Hawes is Warden of
Edenham Regional Retreat House
Recently I found myself asking someone (who was retired from paid work and worked for a voluntary organization) ‘What is stopping you from stopping still?’ This was someone who had come seeking help to pray and the chief challenge they faced was just stopping still. Like so many of us this person’s life was so driven from one task to another, their day had no space in it at all. I remember in the Seventies a book with the title The Four Miles an Hour God. It made the case for slowing down. A case needs to be made for just stopping still and doing nothing.
I am not a city dweller but on my visits to a metropolis certain aspects of behaviour strike me, particularly the quite common sight of people walking at a great pace either eating or talking on their phone. The capacity to multitask is a necessary one in life but it is one that by necessity takes away a depth of engagement in each separate activity. For example, someone eating on the move is not eating with care or attention but simply refuelling. Life on the run means that only the surface is skimmed – so much is missed.
Recently I spent a few days on Sark in the Channel Islands which famously has no cars for transport but does have tractors, bicycles and horses. I anticipated a place without rush or hurry, with plenty of quiet. Given the fact that the island is less than four miles long and just over a mile and a half wide, it was a shock to see people charging about on bikes at great speed and also the considerable amount of tractor movement. Only a minority of people walked beyond the small village. Speed is everything, it seems – even on holiday!
St Ignatius said something like ‘an experience without reflection is a wasted experience.’ For members of the Jesuits he developed the ‘examen of consciousness’ which they were to use twice in twenty-four hours. It is available now in many formats and is sometimes called simply the ‘examen’ or the ‘review of the day’. It starts from a fundamental assumption that God is speaking to us in our own experience, both in our encounter with him through our senses in creation, but also in the emotional and intellectual responses we experience in the course of a few hours in so many different settings and relationships. When the Holy Spirit is invoked to aid reflection and understanding, the smallest incident takes on profound meaning, and by these many revelations we are constantly converted to understand the Lord’s love and call to us in each moment: but first we have to stop.
Walking around Sark can make it feel a big place. Dashing about on a bike makes it small. Never stopping still creates a deadening sensitivity to ourselves to such a degree we place our souls in danger. Being still helps a person see that what seems a blur on the move is beautiful and full of the infinite.